Centenary Ceremony for Michael Brosnan, Castleisland (1900-1920)

Sé mo laoch, mo ghile mear: Piper Noel O’Mahony playing in tribute during the Michael Brosnan (1900 – 1920) commemoration at the Republical plot in Kilbanivane Cemetery in Castleisland on Sunday afternoon. ©Photograph: John Reidy

A simple but Covid-19 restricted ceremony was held on Pembroke’s side of Kilbanivane Cemetery here in Castleisland on Sunday afternoon at 3pm.

Staraí áitiúil agus Gaeilgeoir, Éamonn Ó Braoin conducted the ceremony and provided a bi-lingual oration at the Republican plot in the cemetery.

Murder in Ardfert

The ceremony centred on Michael Brosnan of Close, Castleisland who was murdered by the Black and Tans at 20 years of age in a field in Ardfert on November 7th 1920.

Kerry Civil Defence officer, Tom Brosnan, a nephew of Michael Brosnan’s, was the guest of honour and he laid a wreath on the grave of his uncle who was the first to be buried in Castleisland’s Republican plot.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Noel O’Mahony’s pipes were in high tune as he played in tribute – as only the pipes can – in honour of the ultimate sacrifice made by the men lying beneath or in the shadow of the Celtic cross.

In his oration Éamonn Ó Braoin told the gathering that Michael Brosnan was born in Castleisland on November 24th.1900 when memories of the Land War, landlords, evictions and the Moonlighters were still vivid in the minds of the people. And Éamonn continued:

He became a member of the Irish volunteers the Castleisland company 1st Battallion, Kerry No. 2 Brigade.

His activities brought him under intense surveillance by the RIC and he had to leave his native town. He moved to Rathoneen, Ardfert where he lived with his aunt, Margaret Collins.

The first week of November 1920 saw an increase in attacks on the crown forces throughout North Kerry.

On Friday, November 5th there was an attack planned on a Black and Tans patrol at Ardfert and it was thought that the patrol would come from the Spa direction.

However at least five lorries of Tans arrived unexpectedly by a different route and surrounded the village.

The Tans began firing indiscriminately, most of the Volunteers who had gathered in the village managed to escape but some were arrested and taken to Causeway Barracks among them was Michael Brosnan.

The account by Dora Brosnan, Michael’s sister, in a letter to another brother in America describes how ‘they beat them unmercifully and, when they were left out, the authorities planned to shoot them on a bend of the road, this information was secretly passed on to the Volunteers, and they got into the fields and got safely home.’

On Monday, November 8th there was to be stations in the Collins household, early in the morning Martin Collins called and asked Michael to go to the village with him, they spent a few hours in the hotel when suddenly someone shouted ‘the Black and Tans are coming’ seven lorries of the Tans had surrounded the the village on all sides.

They arrested Michael Brosnan, John Cantillon and Maurice McElligott and they were put into a Crossley tender and set off in the direction of Rathoneen.

They were brought into a field and the Black and Tans ordered them to run, Brosnan and Cantillon were both shot dead after they had run about fifty yards; they were riddled with bullets.

Tim Matt O’Connor and Mossie Prendiville went to claim Michael Brosnan’s body.

On Tuesday, the funeral left Ardfert followed by four cars, at Ballymacelligott it was met by the local volunteers and, near Castleisland, there was a huge contingent to meet the convoy.

Six volunteers guarded the remains in the church until the funeral the following day.

Thousands attended the burial, schools closed in respect and sympathy for Michael Brosnan, who had made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of Irish freedom.

He was the first to be interned in the Republican plot in Kilbanivane Cemetery, Castleisland.”

Michael Brosnan’s sister Dora’s Letter to America in November 1920

The following letter from Michael Brosnan’s sister, Dora at home in Castleisland to her brother, John in America details the brutal treatment and eventual murder of Michael and his colleagues in Ardfert on that occasion.

It also provides a first hand account of the tense situation which prevailed in and around Castleisland and in the Ireland of that time:

Close, Castleisland, 30th. November 1920

My dear brother.

I am sure you must be anxiously waiting for news from home and there is so much to tell that I don’t know where to begin.

Of course you know by now of poor Mick’s tragical death. Somehow it was no great surprise to any of us for when we heard that there was trouble in Ardfert and Causeway we felt that Mick was not out of it.

Well John this is the way we were told how the incident occured. The dear Black and Tans made a raid in Causeway and about 20 fellows Mick included were in a group, I cannot say if they were going to attack the lorries but nine of that number were captured and taken to barracks.

They beat them unmercifully but there was not a stroke or kick that Mick got that he didn’t give two for and yet came off the lightest as regards injuries.

This was on Friday previous to Monday 8th November. Then they were left out and those murderers well placed at a bend in the road to shoot them as they passed, but one of the authorities told them not to go the road, there are some good men in the R.I.C.

The fellow passed the word around and they got into the fields except the Maguire publican in Ardfert.

I’m sure you know him they have six children, he kept the road and was killed instantly.

They then fired at the others but all escaped that day.

Martin Collins went back to Mary’s Monday morning and asked Mick to go to the village. He left his load of seaweed in the car in field and aunt came out and begged Mick to wait for mass. She had stations that morning but no he had to go to meet his fate.

They spent a few hours in John’s when Annie arrived in Ardfert and shouted the Black and Tans were coming in seven lorries.

They surrounded the village from all sides. Just five minutes before that Mick stood up to go home the last words they heard him say were “I must go home to my farm and horses.”

Well then they heard them coming they got out the back door and as you know there is no shelter. Martin Cantillion who fell with Mick were running together. There were shots in all directions.

Mick stopped by the way pulling mangolds. But his bright red head gave him way. One of those devils recognised him as one of those in that raid, and shouted “O for a drop of Irish blood. No mercy for that red headed B. He is in every raid.”

He then came up to him with rifle on the head then stood back and shot him. Martin put up his hands and his mother got him back the priest interceded for him.

Annie witnessed it all and though shots were going off all round her she began to scream and couldn’t stop though she thought Mick was safe with Martin.

Dr. Lawlor happened to be in the village. She sent him up to see who was down he brought Mick on his shoulder to the gate quiet dead.

It took place outside the Presbytery. Fr. Barton was standing on top of stairs he ran down and out and anointed him.

Cantillion was shot through the heart O poor boy. His young brother made a scene in the village when we arrived.

He put his hands around Con and both cried enough together. This chap was the first to make my father cry.

He came back to see Mick he used to say my good Mick, you often gave me the price of a package. It was so surprising to see all that were crying after him.

Young boys and girls and even old men.

Tim Mat Connor and Mossie Prendiville went to claim the body. We could not go the evening he was shot on account of curfew law being in force in Tralee at the time.

Though there were only four cars in the funeral from Ardfert to Tralee when we came to Ballymac were met by some of the volunteers and the creamery staff drew out the old motor van.

Then as we neared home were met by our own volunteers and then they put the green flag on the coffin though everybody thought the military would prevent all this.

There were six guarding the remains in the church until funeral following day.

Tim, Con, J.Prendiville and Tim Mat with their sleeves draped with the green and gold and the black took out coffin to an open hearse.

Some of the volunteers were told to take the wreaths. The one the volunteers gave him is beautiful, two had to take it between them it’s a marble slab with a high glass shade.

Then the Cumann na mBan and volunteers were next after mourners and the local band played him to the new cemetery. It was a beautiful day and I couldn’t exaggerate when I say it was the largest funeral seen in town. Schools were closed.

John I could not give you all details. The following week Johnnie Mahony, Nohoval and Herlihy, Ballymac were shot dead at Ballydwyer Creamery. There was a policeman shot badly wounded in town after Mick being buried. Of course our family was suspected.

My father and the boys didn’t sleep at home for a week after but lucky enough there was no visit paid to us but every window in town was smashed some attempts at burning but soldiers use to quench it as soon as they had it started.

The town was deserted my grandmother was removed up here and died a few days after. There was a soldier fired at last night some say by one of themselves but Jim Mahony and M. Wanderer are arrested.

They are innocent but it looks black for them. John I could never tell last. My mother is well considering as all of us are T.G. Write to me as soon as you get this.

I suppose uncle got my letter.

Julie kept aunt Hanna out when grandma died. She is with us.

I got your letter the day after the funeral and thought it strange you should mention Mick in that letter but let us hope he is better off. I hope it will be the worst news I shall ever send you my dear brother.

Ever your fond sister, Dora.

You can contact The Maine Valley Post on…Anyone in The Maine Valley Post catchment area who would like to send us news and captioned photographs for inclusion can send them to: jreidy@mainevalleypost.com

Queries about advertising and any other matters regarding The Maine Valley Post can also be sent to that address or just ring: 087 23 59 467.